Alex Lloyd PhD Candidate, Dublin Institute of Technology
Did you know that roughly 17.5 million people worldwide die annually from Cardiovascular diseases (CVD)? According to the World Health Organisation in 2013, one third of global death was attributed to CVDs. In Ireland, it is estimated that 10,000 people die annually from these diseases. However, what if there was a cheap available food-based preparation that could decrease disease progression, improve quality of life and reduce healthcare costs. The direct economic cost of these diseases is about two billion euros each year not to mention indirect costs and the effects on quality of life.
Cardiovascular disease can affect either the heart or blood vessels e.g Coronary artery disease. The main underlying mechanism usually involves atherosclerosis, defined as a build-up of plaque in the walls of the arteries resulting in restricted blood flow. If a blood clot forms as a result of plaque development this can stop the blood flow resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
CVD Disease Risk
There are a combination of factors which increase the likelihood of CVD such as having a family history of CVD, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and excessive alcohol consumption. Typically men are more at risk than women, the risk of which increases with age.
The good news is that 90% of CVD is preventable by modification of lifestyle factors such as increasing exercise, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake and most importantly eating healthy.
Diet and CVD Risk
So focusing on diet, I would to talk to you about a component in broccoli. As I’m sure you are aware broccoli is associated with a number of health benefits. To mention a few, it is rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium and dietary fibre. Broccoli is also a good source of glucoraphanin, which is the precursor of the phytochemical sulforaphane (SFN). CVDs are characterised by disturbances in the balance of normal metabolic and cellular processes initially. SFN induces phase II detoxification in the liver. It also acts as an antioxidant which can induce the expression of numerous antioxidant genes in the body with protective effects against CVD.
Dietary intake of broccoli has been epidemiologically associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease mortality and in addition to reducing oxidative stress. SFN also acts as a histone deacetylase inhibitor (a gene regulator) and is capable of rewiring metabolic pathways to reduce blood lipids, reduce blood glucose and inhibit fat tissue formation.
Achieving a physiological effect
However, while SFN is associated with all these great attributes, like many other bioactive phytochemicals, it is a relatively minor component of broccoli. Thus achieving the amount required daily to generate a physiological effect is almost infeasible. In order to obtain the therapeutic benefit of SFN, steady levels will be needed to maintain the new metabolic state.
One approach would be to prepare fortified food that contains a high level of the active ingredient. This has been used very successfully in the case of benecol which is fortified with the bioactive plant sterols to maximise the physiological benefit. Alternatively, broccoli sprouts contain up to 100 times more glucoraphanin the SFN precursor than regular broccoli thus are a valuable source of SFN.
SFN – Dietary Intervention Study
I am going to carry out the first of its kind dietary intervention study using broccoli sprout juice on an estimated 24 participants. I will define the in vivo efficiency of this juice to modify clinical biomarkers of CVD and diabetes. There are certain genetic make ups that are known to respond better to SFN treatment. Presently, I am working on identifying suitable candidates to participate in the dietary intervention trial using a molecular assay. Blood samples from these individuals will be collected and treated with SFN at relevant doses to determine the cell response to SFN and estimate the sample size for the invention study. The study will be randomised and double blind (neither I nor the participants will know if they are receiving treatment or placebo) and last 14 weeks. A panel of markers for CVDs will be examined before and after the intervention e.g. cholesterol, lipids and glucose.All previous research in this area has been based on in vitro and animal studies. Thus, there has been no clinical studies indicating the optimal consumption level of SFN in humans, which I hope to achieve. Watch this space!